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TEXAS STATE PARKS

Natural Economic Assets

Tyler State Park in Smith County, Texas

STATE PARK PROFILES

Tyler State Park
Smith County and
Caddo Lake State Park
Harrison County

Piney Woods Region

Nestled among the piney woods of East Texas are two popular parks, one catering to swimmers and campers and the other to naturalists and fishermen. Tyler State Park, located just north of Tyler, is a scenic 985.5-acre park with a 64-acre, spring-fed lake perfect for swimming, camping and nearby picnics.1

About 75 miles east of Tyler State Park, near Lady Bird Johnson’s hometown of Karnack and only three miles west of the Louisiana border, is Caddo Lake State Park, bordering the largest naturally formed lake in Texas. In contrast to Tyler’s all-American family atmosphere, Caddo Lake is almost mystical, with its 26,810 acres of shallow waters supporting a forest of cypress trees draped in long strands of Spanish moss that come alive with the slightest breeze. One gets the feeling that if the lake could talk, it would have many ancient stories to tell.2

Both parks are intimately connected to the citizens that live in the surrounding area.

“Tyler State Park is the backyard for a lot of people in the Lindale, Mineola, and Tyler area,” says Park Superintendent Bill Smart. “They can come right out here and enjoy a short vacation for the weekend.”3 The park often hosts family picnics and recreational events for doctors and medical staff from the area’s many health facilities – the East Texas Medical Center, the University of Texas Health Center at Tyler, and Trinity Mother Frances System Hospitals and Clinics.

Smart says the park is the top tourist attraction in Smith County, a claim echoed by Tom Mullins, president and chief executive officer of the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce.4

Because of the park’s 14 miles of outstanding trails, Tyler is popular with mountain bikers and trail walkers of all types. Several years ago, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals offered a cardio fitness program at the park, recalls John Moore, public information officer for the hospitals.5 The East Texas Trekkers, a non-competitive walking club organized to “stimulate personal fitness, health and relaxation,” frequently hosts organized walks at the park.6

Caddo, consisting of 484 acres, boasts nine CCC-built cabins, now renovated to include bathrooms and kitchens, and a group recreation or dining hall.

The park’s lake and public boat dock are popular with fishermen, swimmers, scuba divers, kayakers and paddle boat enthusiasts. One of the more interesting groups of regular visitors is the Dogwood Chapter of the Lone Star Dutch Oven Society, which meets regularly to cook breads, casseroles, meats and desserts in the cast-iron covered pots over hot coals. The DOGs, as they refer to themselves, teach other visitors how to cook in the pots, the style of which is credited to American Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere.7

In the 1930s, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) did much of the stonework at the park, along with constructing the boathouse, but did not build cabins like it had at other parks. However, the park has many screened shelters, group picnic areas and campsites with and without water and electricity.8

While only 75 miles away, Caddo Lake State Park could be in another world. The immense, broad and shallow lake shared by Texas and Louisiana is hushed, the only sounds being the breathy, light winds through the bald cypress trees and the occasional splash of a fish or call of a bird. The lake or, more accurately, the swamp has filled and drained many times. These fluctuations were due either to a natural dam of trees and other debris that formed at a choke point in Louisiana or from government intervention in the late 1800s to drain it. Peaceful tribes of Caddo Indians and less peaceful pirates, smugglers, brigands and other assorted lawbreakers inhabited the many secret places along the lakeshores for centuries before oil and cotton came to the area in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Canoeing in Caddo Lake State Park in Harrison County, Texas

Caddo, consisting of 484 acres, boasts nine CCC-built cabins, now renovated to include bathrooms and kitchens, and a group recreation or dining hall. About 60 campsites accommodate campers in tents and recreational vehicles. The park has one of only two public boat ramps on the huge lake, which alone makes it a popular destination for local visitors. Besides fishing and canoeing, visitors enjoy bird watching, other wildlife viewing and photography, and miles of equestrian trails.9

Todd Dickinson, park superintendent, Charlie Hubbard, the park’s interpreter and guide, and Jay Webb, proprietor of the Caddo Lake Cabins down the road from the park in Uncertain and the former chamber of commerce president, all say that park visitors are the economic mainstay for the largely rural area. The growing majority of visitors to the area are coming from Dallas and Shreveport, La., but Webb estimates that 70 percent of those visitors own weekend homes along the lake’s shores. Dickinson estimates that of the 60,000 to 75,000 paying customers to the park each year, perhaps 50,000 stay overnight. Many of these come to fish, says Dickinson, and he is quick to remind them and other visitors that no fishing license is required to fish in state parks.

Caddo Lake State Park provides the only outdoor camping near the lake. Webb says this somewhat ruefully because his bed and breakfast can’t offer camping, and he gets two to three calls a week inquiring about it. He says visitors who come with their kids want to return as campers. And it’s not just the nature experience that draws them, but also the low crime rates around the lake that make security a valued amenity.10

Tyler State Park contributed $1,804,911 in sales and $1,047,672 in personal income to Smith County
in 2006.

The Caddo Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism’s website lists 55 businesses – from fishing guides to cabins, boat dock construction companies, restaurants and realtors – that cater to park visitors11 Even though a large privately owned lodge and restaurant near the park has seen some hard times and is currently up for sale, other local bed and breakfasts are doing well, Webb says. Spring and fall are the busiest seasons, and Dickinson says the park is booked every weekend from mid-summer to Thanksgiving. The only slow tourism months are December, January and February, Webb and Dickinson agree, but sometimes, warm weather in February brings out cabin fevered fishermen.12

Across the highway from Caddo State Park is a unique property – an 8,000-acre former munitions facility that is becoming a national wildlife management area. The Longhorn Army Ammunition Plant had produced military-grade TNT since World War II and solid-fuel rocket motors during the Cold War, and even had destroyed nuclear missiles under the terms of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and the then-Soviet Union. But it’s usefulness as a Defense Department plant came to an end in the 1990s. In 2000, the area became the Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Although the refuge is still undergoing environmental remediation and facility construction, one day it will be a refuge for “one of the highest quality old-growth bottomland hardwood forests in the southeastern United States,” according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, protecting some 224 species of birds, 22 species of amphibians, 46 species of reptiles and 93 species of fish.13

Caddo Lake State Park contributed $1,793,831 in sales and $961,334 in personal income
to Harrison County in 2006.

In 1993, the wetlands of Caddo Lake were listed as one of just 17 U.S. “Wetlands of International Significance” under an international treaty called the Ramsar Convention of 1971. The Convention, managed by the Ramsar Convention Secretariat in Switzerland, lists 1,757 sites throughout the world comprising over 398 million acres of valuable and ecologically significant wetlands under conservation.14

Dickinson is hopeful that, one day, the two parks will be able to work cooperatively to attract visitors with more cabins, expanded camp sites, equestrian trails and stables, public boat docks and programs that will instill a reverence for nature with many generations to come.15

Financially, both Tyler and Caddo Lake state parks have ended recent fiscal years with mixed results. In fiscal 2007, Tyler’s operating expenses (including minor repairs and salaries but not capital expenses or employee fringe benefits) were $734,743 against $751,454 in revenue, for a net gain of $16,711. Caddo had revenues of $319,065 against operating expenses of $399,524 for a net loss of $80,459 in 2007.16

According to a study conducted by John Crompton and Juddson Culpepper of Texas A&M University, Tyler State Park contributed $1,804,911 in sales and $1,047,672 in personal income to Smith County in 2006. The park also created 30.5 jobs and generated $9,025 in sales tax revenue for the county in that year. Caddo Lake State Park contributed $1,793,831 in sales and $961,334 in personal income to Harrison County in 2006. The park also created 37.4 jobs and generated $8,969 in sales tax revenue for the county in that year17

Summary Economic Impacts
Tyler State Park, Tyler County

2006 County Sales 2006 County Resident Income 2006 County Employment (Full-Time Equivalent) 2006 County Sales Tax Generated
$1,804,911 $1,047,672 30.5 $9,025

Source: Texas A&M University.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Direct Spending (Fiscal 2007)

Revenues Operating Expenses* Net Income
$751,454 $734,743 $16,711

* Includes salaries, operating expenses and minor (non-capital) repair.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Summary Economic Impacts
Caddo Lake State Park, Harrison County

2006 County Sales 2006 County Resident Income 2006 County Employment (Full-Time Equivalent) 2006 County Sales Tax Generated
$1,793,831 $961,334 37.4 $8,969

Source: Texas A&M University.

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department Direct Spending (Fiscal 2007)

Revenues Operating Expenses* Net Income
$319,065 $399,524 ($80,459)

* Includes salaries, operating expenses and minor (non-capital) repair.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Endnotes

  • 1 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Tyler State Park,” p. 1, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/tyler/. (Last visited September 19, 2008.)
  • 2 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Caddo Lake State Park,” pp. 1-3, http://www.tpwd.state.tx.us/spdest/findadest/parks/caddo_lake/. (Last visited September 19, 2008.)
  • 3 Tracy Watler, “Fun Attractions Right Here In Our Own Backyard,” KTLV 7 News – Tyler, Longview, & Jacksonville (May 23, 2008), p.1, http://www.kltv.com/global/story.asp?s=8373712. (Last visited September 19, 2008.)
  • 4 Interviews with Bill Smart, park superintendent, Tyler State Park, Tyler, Texas, July 10, 2008 and Tom Mullins, president and chief executive officer, Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce, Tyler, Texas, July 23, 2008.
  • 5 Interview with John Moore, public information officer, Trinity Mother Frances Hospitals, Tyler, Texas, July 24, 2008.
  • 6East Texas Trekkers Inc., “East Texas Trekkers Inc. Tyler, Texas,” (October 22, 2007), http://www.walktx.org/EastTexasTrekkers/. (Last visited September 19, 2008.)
  • 7 Interview with Bill Smart, park superintendent, Tyler State Park.
  • 8 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Tyler State Park.”
  • 9 Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Caddo Lake State Park.”
  • 10 Interviews with Todd Dickinson, park manager and Charles Hubbard, park resource interpretive specialist, Caddo Lake State Park, Harrison County, Texas, July 11, 2008, and Jay Webb, Caddo Lake Cabins, Uncertain, Texas, July 11, 2008.
  • 11 Caddo Lake Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, “Member Directory,” http://easttexastowns.com/DirectoryCLAC.cfm (Last visited September 18, 2008.)
  • 12 Interviews with Todd Dickinson, park manager and Charles Hubbard, park resource interpretive specialist, Caddo Lake State Park and Jay Webb, Caddo Lake Cabins, July 11, 2008.
  • 13 Notice of the Establishment of Caddo Lake National Wildlife Refuge, 65 Fed. Reg. 203 (Oct. 19, 2000.)
  • 14 Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, “The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands,” http://www.ramsar.org/. (Last visited September 18, 2008.)
  • 15 Interview with Todd Dickinson, park manager, Caddo Lake State Park.
  • 16 Data provided by Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, “Revenue Less Operating Costs, FY 2006-2007,” with Texas Comptroller’s office calculations. Amounts may not total due to rounding.
  • 17 Texas Coalition for Conservation, The Economic Contributions of Texas State Parks in FY 2006, by John L. Crompton and Juddson Culpepper, Texas A&M University, Department of Recreation, Park and Tourism Sciences (Austin, Texas, December 2006), http://rptsweb.tamu.edu/faculty/Crompton/Crompton/Articles/3.10.pdf. (Last visited September 18, 2008.)
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